Salvation is deliverance from danger or suffering. To save is to deliver or protect. The word carries the idea of victory, health, or preservation. Sometimes, the Bible uses the words saved or salvation to refer to temporal, physical deliverance, such as Paul’s deliverance from prison (Philippians 1:19).
More often, the word “salvation” concerns an eternal, spiritual deliverance. When Paul told the Philippian jailer what he must do to be saved, he was referring to the jailer’s eternal destiny (Acts 16:30-31). Jesus equated being saved with entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24-25).
What are we saved from? In the Christian doctrine of salvation, we are saved from “wrath,” that is, from God’s judgment of sin (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). Our sin has separated us from God, and the consequence of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Biblical salvation refers to our deliverance from the consequence of sin and therefore involves the removal of sin.
Who does the saving? Only God can remove sin and deliver us from sin’s penalty (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5).
How does God save? In the Christian doctrine of salvation, God has rescued us through Christ (John 3:17). Specifically, it was Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection that achieved our salvation (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 1:7). Scripture is clear that salvation is the gracious, undeserved gift of God (Ephesians 2:5, 8) and is only available through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
How do we receive salvation? We are saved by faith. First, we must hear the gospel—the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:13). Then, we must believe—fully trust the Lord Jesus (Romans 1:16). This involves repentance, a changing of mind about sin and Christ (Acts 3:19), and calling on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:9-10, 13).
A definition of the Christian doctrine of salvation would be “The deliverance, by the grace of God, from eternal punishment for sin which is granted to those who accept by faith God’s conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus.” Salvation is available in Jesus alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) and is dependent on God alone for provision, assurance, and security.
Many understand the term repentance to mean “a turning from sin.” Regretting sin and turning from it is related to repentance, but it is not the precise meaning of the word. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.”
The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8–14; Acts 3:19). In summarizing his ministry, Paul declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.
What, then, is the connection between repentance and salvation? The book of Acts especially focuses on repentance in regard to salvation (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). To repent, in relation to salvation, is to change your mind regarding sin and Jesus Christ.
In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), he concludes with a call for the people to repent (Acts 2:38). Repent from what? Peter is calling the people who rejected Jesus (Acts 2:36) to change their minds about that sin and to change their minds about Christ Himself, recognizing that He is indeed “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter is calling the people to change their minds, to abhor their past rejection of Christ, and to embrace faith in Him as both Messiah and Savior.
Repentance involves recognizing that you have thought wrongly in the past and determining to think aright in the future. The repentant person has “second thoughts” about the mindset he formally embraced.
There is a change of disposition and a new way of thinking about God, about sin, about holiness, and about doing God’s will. True repentance is prompted by “godly sorrow,” and it “leads to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Repentance and faith can be understood as two sides of the same coin. It is impossible to place your faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior without first changing your mind about your sin and about who Jesus is and what He has done. Whether it is repentance from willful rejection or repentance from ignorance or disinterest, it is a change of mind.
Biblical repentance, in relation to salvation, is changing your mind from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ.
Repentance is not a work we do to earn salvation. No one can repent and come to God unless God pulls that person to Himself (John 6:44). Repentance is something God gives—it is only possible because of His grace (Acts 5:31; 11:18).
No one can repent unless God grants repentance. All of salvation, including repentance and faith, is a result of God drawing us, opening our eyes, and changing our hearts. God’s longsuffering leads us to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), as does His kindness (Romans 2:4).
While repentance is not a work that earns salvation, repentance unto salvation does result in works. It is impossible to truly change your mind without that causing a change in action. In the Bible, repentance results in a change in behavior. That is why John the Baptist called people to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
A person who has truly repented of his sin and exercised faith in Christ will give evidence of a changed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:19–23; James 2:14–26).
To see what repentance looks like in real life, all we need is to do is turn to the story of Zacchaeus. Here was a man who cheated and stole and lived lavishly on his ill-gotten gains—until he met Jesus. At that point he had a radical change of mind: “Look, Lord!” said Zacchaeus. “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).
Jesus happily proclaimed that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house, and that even the tax collector was now “a son of Abraham” (verse 9)—a reference to Zacchaeus’s faith.
The cheat became a philanthropist; the thief made restitution. That’s repentance, coupled with faith in Christ.
Repentance, properly defined, is necessary for salvation. Biblical repentance is changing your mind about your sin—no longer is sin something to toy with; it is something to be forsaken as we “flee from the coming wrath” (Matthew 3:7).
It is also changing your mind about Jesus Christ—no longer is He to be mocked, discounted, or ignored; He is the Savior to be clung to; He is the Lord to be worshiped and adored.
Technically, repentance is a change of mind, not a turning from sin. The Greek word translated “repentance” is metanoia, and the meaning is simply “a change of mind.” In common usage, however, we often speak of repentance as “a turning from sin.” There is a good reason for this.
Repentance is often associated with salvation in Scripture. What happens when the Holy Spirit begins His work to bring a person to salvation? The Spirit gives the sinner a personal understanding and infallible conviction that the facts concerning his spiritual state are true.
Those facts are his personal sin, the eternal punishment due him for his sin, the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ suffering for his sin, and the need for faith in Jesus to save him from his sin. From that convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8), the sinner repents—he changes his mind—about sin, the Savior, and salvation.
When a repentant person changes his mind about sin, that change of mind naturally leads to a turning from sin. Sin is no longer desirable or fun, because sin brings condemnation.
The repentant sinner begins to abhor his past misdeeds. And he begins to seek ways to amend his behavior (see Luke 19:8). So, ultimately, the result of the change of mind about sin is good deeds.
The sinner turns away from sin toward faith in the Savior, and that faith is shown in action (see James 2:17).
The change of mind (repentance) is not precisely the same as the active turning from sin and visible performance of good deeds, but one leads to the other. In this way, repentance is related to turning from sin. When people speak of repentance as a turning from sin (rather than a change of mind), they are using a figure of speech called metonymy. In metonymy, the name of a concept is replaced with a word suggested by the original.
Metonymy is quite common in everyday language. For example, there is a television program called Suits that is about lawyers. But instead of naming the program Lawyers, the producers used metonymy to name the program after the suits that identify the working lawyer.
News reports that begin, “The White House issued a statement today,” are also using metonymy, as the name for the building where the President lives is substituted for the name of the President himself.
In the Bible we can see other examples of metonymy. In Mark 9:17 the father states that his son has “a mute spirit” . The evil spirit itself is not mute. The evil spirit causes the boy to be mute. The spirit is named after the effect it produces: a mute child.
The metonymy here replaces the cause with the effect. Similarly, using the word repentance to mean “a turning from sin” replaces the cause with the effect.
The cause is repentance, a change of mind; the effect is a turning away from sin. A word is replaced by a related concept. That’s metonymy.
In summary, repentance is a change of mind. But the full biblical understanding of repentance goes beyond that. In relationship to salvation, repentance is a change of mind from an embrace of sin to rejection of sin and from rejection of Christ to faith in Christ. Such repentance is something only God can enable (John 6:44; Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).
Therefore, true biblical repentance will always result in a change of behavior. Maybe not instantly, but inevitably and progressively.
DO YOU KNOW JESUS CHRIST AS LORD? YOU CAN'T ENTER HEAVEN WITHOUT HIM! DO YOU WANT TO KNOW HIM AND THE SALVATION HE PROVIDES?
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